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New ZHAW process revolutionises cold coffee

A St. Gallen-based startup aims to RE-THINK the production, sales and marketing of cold brew using a novel manufacturing process developed at the ZHAW.

The caffeine content of a 250 ml bottle is equivalent of that of two standard cups of coffee.
“Refresh, recharge, rethink” is the motto of (from left) Paolo del Ponte, Marco Righetti, Benita Sutter, Roland Laux and Christian Zimmermann
Freshly extracted: Christian Zimmermann (left) and Roland Laux test the new cold brew coffee.
With the new method, the production of cold brew can be reduced from twelve hours to just under a minute.
The right roast and choice of bean are also very important.

Coffee lovers adhere to one of two philosophies. Members of the first group like to take their time to enjoy their favourite drink, preferably in the form of a dark roast espresso. The other group - among them mostly young people - prefer their pick-me-up as a ready-to-drink option on the go.  Supermarkets are constantly expanding their range of Frappucinos, coffee smoothies and even seasonal creations. Cold brew coffee is the latest trend to make it over from the US, home of the coffee-to-go culture, where cold brew is now a hot favourite. As cold brew gains a foothold in major European cities such as London, Berlin or Paris, a young St. Gallen startup is planning to conquer the Swiss market.

Their target groups are coffee lovers who consider the taste of conventional cold coffee mixes too sweet or too artificial, and caffeine junkies who drink upwards of four cups of coffee a day. 

Coffee bars selling cold brew are still few and far between. However, “Baristas in Switzerland, for instance in Zurich, Basel, Luzern and St. Gallen, are developing a taste for it,” says Roland Laux, innovation consultant and co-founder of startup Mastercoldbrewer. Matching the 21 percent market penetration among US coffee drinkers may still seem a long way off, but this figure shows the potential of this trendy caffeinated drink. Using a manufacturing process developed at the ZHAW, Mastercoldbrewer’s team of four is planning to take the Swiss market by storm.

Is coffee the next chocolate revolution?

Until recently, café owners and managers have had to rely on an elaborate process to make cold coffee. Some brew hot coffee and let it cool down, others make coffee using cold water and let it sit for 8 to 18 hours before they extract the liquid coffee from the grounds, and yet another group uses the dripping method whereby, over several hours, water is allowed to drip slowly through a filter filled with coffee grounds.  “These methods are inefficient and therefore not suitable for industrial applications,” says Christian Zimmermann, research associate at the ZHAW Institute of Food and Beverage Innovation. “They are slow, take up a lot of space and don’t deliver anywhere near the taste results of our method.”  And Zimmermann must know - together with Professor Tilo Hühn, Head of the Centre for Food Composition and Process Design, and Roland Laux, he has adapted and refined the cold extraction process originally used in olive oil manufacturing for coffee beans. Yello founder Dieter Meier uses the same method to process cocoa beans for his chocolate (Impact 39/2017).

Laux and Hühn came up with the original concept over ten years ago while visiting a chocolate factory on a study trip through Venezuela. They remained captivated by the idea of preserving more of the goodness of the ingredients in the finished product. Switzerland’s long-standing chocolate-making tradition made them initially focus on the processing of cocoa beans. The cold extraction of coffee beans seemed a logical next step and in 2008, they filed a patent application.

Cold extraction explained

“The choice of bean and the correct roast are also essential to achieve the perfect flavour,” explains Zimmermann. This led to Mastercoldbrewer collaborating with Turm & Bogen, a St. Gallen-based coffee roaster and supplier. Gently roasted beans are finely ground with cold water. Then the coffee grounds are separated from the coffee extract, which is still cloudy at this stage. The coffee extract is filtered and turned into the clear cold brew. “This continuous process reduces the processing time from 10 hours with the conventional method to under a minute,” says Zimmermann.

He believes that the complex aroma profile is an additional advantage, explaining that the beverage is mild, fruity and flowery rather than bitter and, in addition, easy on the stomach thanks to its low acidity. The caffeine content of a 250 ml bottle of “RE-COFFEE” is equivalent to that of two standard cups of coffee.

The manufacturing process has an additional benefit in that it creates as a side-product an aromatic coffee oil, which might, in the future, be used to flavour other products or be of interest to coffee pod manufacturers. Its syrup-like texture could also make it a suitable ingredient for mixed drinks or desserts.

Mastercoldbrewer’s collaboration with the ZHAW extends beyond the manufacturing process. For several years, innovation consultant Roland Laux has provided real-life business cases for projects to be carried out by systems engineering students. The idea is to confront students with issues from the real business world. This time, the students were asked to develop strategies for distributing RE-COFFEE cold brew to consumers. “Some of the students came up with unusual ideas concerning distribution channels, some of which we are now planning to implement,” says Laux.

Market testing in ZHAW cafeterias

“Students always need an energy boost and they share an affinity for new ideas,” says Laux, which is why market tests are underway in two SV-run cafeterias, one on the Grüental campus in Wädenswil and one on the Technikumstrasse campus in Winterthur, until the semester holidays. The developers are also in negotiations with retailers, caterers, industry and corporate clients. Their RE-COFFEE cold brew is also available online. There has been a positive response to both the taste of the product and the business concept. According to Laux, the product also appeals to a millennial lifestyle. He says “People today are more concerned with a healthy and balanced lifestyle, they show an interest in where ingredients are sourced and how they are processed.”

Micro-sharing for a water project in Ethiopia

Micro-sharing for a waFor its RE-Coffee, Masterbrewer uses fair trade coffee beans from the Sidamo plateau in Southern Ethiopia, the region where arabica coffee originated. The refreshing beverage is produced exclusively with natural, plant-based ingredients and without the addition of artificial flavourings, preservatives, or sugar. But promoting sustainability means more than this for the Mastercoldbrewer team - they have set up a micro-sharing concept to support families in Ethiopia. “We want to give something back to the people in the country our coffee beans come from,” says Laux. For every litre of RE-COFFEE cold brew sold, the company pledges to secure fresh water for one family for at least 10 days.

To this end, the startup has entered into collaboration with the development organisation Helvetas. The project includes the construction of cisterns that provide water for entire neighbourhoods throughout the drought periods during the country’s nine-month dry season.

Now that the product is ready for the market, the young entrepreneurs are putting all their energy into promoting RE-Coffee to the public. To mark the product launch in summer, the four members of the Mastercoldbrewer team have developed a number of recipes, for instance for exotic summer drinks based on RE-COFFEE with tonic water or Appenzeller Alpenbitter.